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Local school districts got military gear from Pentagon

Some oppose the idea, while other agencies say the equipment is neccessary
Pentagon program gives weapons to school police 04:10

Editor's Note: Our "CBS This Morning" story of Sept. 26 on the Pentagon's 1033 program included a reference to the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, which stated: "The DOD program came under scrutiny in August when police responded to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, with tanks, combat gear, and assault rifles - some of which had come from the Pentagon."

A subsequent editorial review makes clear that we should have used the term "armored vehicles" instead of "tanks," and that we should have said that some of the material used by the police "may have come from the Pentagon."

A CBS News review shows campus police across the country have received millions of dollars worth of military gear from the Pentagon.

Now, there are calls to halt those transfers, even though some agencies say the weapons are necessary.

CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reports from the University of Texas, Arlington, that the University of Texas System's police protect more than a dozen campuses and 330,000 people across the state.

The director of police said those additional weapons and gear are necessary, given the type of emergencies that can happen.

When University of Texas police responded to a bomb threat in 2012, they arrived in a Humvee. It's one of three large military vehicles the university's police system has acquired from the Department of Defense. They recently received a mine-resistant vehicle, which was designed to withstand roadside bombs on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The turret has been removed, so there's no weapons systems associated with it," University of Texas System Director of Police Michael Heidingsfield said.

He says its purpose is to protect the occupants and save lives.

"That vehicle will be used solely in response to an active shooter or armed intruder events," Heidingsfield said. "Or perhaps in anticipation of a major natural catastrophic event."

The university's police department is one of at least 125 school law enforcement agencies in 25 states that have received military gear free of charge from the Department of Defense. That includes police departments for 23 kindergarten-through-12 school districts and 102 colleges and universities.

The DOD program came under scrutiny in August when police responded to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, with armored vehicles, combat gear and assault rifles, some of which may have come from the Pentagon.

A CBS News review of available public data from more than 30 states found that law enforcement agencies affiliated with educational institutions have obtained more than $13 million worth of military gear from the program. Among the items received: 145 pistols, 780 rifles and nine of the mine resistant vehicles.

"The presence of military weaponry on schools undermines public trust, and it undermines public safety, and it's not the right response," ACLU Senior Counsel Kara Dansky said.

The ACLU is one of more than 20 education and civil rights advocates calling on the Defense Department to stop giving military equipment to school police.

"Post-Ferguson, really, we saw some conversations come to the top that we'd never had in this community before," San Diego Unified School District Chief of Police Rueben Littlejohn said.

Littlejohn's district, which serves preschool to high school, received a mine-resistant vehicle from the Pentagon in April. They had plans to repaint it white and use it as a rescue vehicle in the event of an active shooter or a natural disaster.

But last week, they changed course.

"We're returning it because some members of the community have expressed the fact that they are uncomfortable with the vehicle that's military by design," Littlejohn said.

But many agencies say the threat to their institutions is evolving and point to mass shootings - like Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook - as reasons their response must evolve too.

"I'm required to protect and serve the University of Texas System," Heidingsfield said. "I ought to employ or have in my repertoire every possible tool. I hope that vehicle never has to leave the warehouse it sits in. But if I don't have it, and then we need it, I've not made the right decision."

That armored truck is not stored at any campus.

U.T. Arlington has only received items such as first aid kits and goggles from the Pentagon.

Still, several lawmakers want to review the program for all schools, and two congressmen have drafted a bill that would limit weapon transfers.

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